Francophilic Goa’s French Connections 


Nandkumar M Kamat

ON a cold morning in 1923, three young Asians met in a small room of Hotel Ritz, Paris, France dreaming about future of their motherlands. One had come all the way from Portuguese-occupied Goa to study electrical engineering at Sorbonne University; the other was working as a fitter at the Le Creusot Iron and Steel Plant in La Garenne-Colombes, a south-western suburb of Paris where he had moved in April 1921 after travelling all the way from China. The third one had travelled from French-occupied Vietnam and was working in the hotel as kitchen assistant.

“I dream of a free, revolutionary, proletarian China- declared Chou En Lai, the would-be Prime Minister of Communist China. “I am here to talk about Portuguese colonial rule and garner support for a free Goa” announced the handsome T B Cunha, (who would be known soon as ‘Father of Goan nationalism’)..” And what about you, Ho?, “asked Chou En Lai. Ho Chi Minh, their host from Vietnam (and who would be destined to be fondly called as Uncle ‘HO” immortalised in renaming Saigon as Ho Chi Minh city) just smiled mischievously and said – “right now, comrades, I am here to serve you the best of the wine”. He filled and raised the glasses and all three cheerily said “Long live the revolution, long live the people of India, China, Vietnam, long live the French Republic”.

Those were the days of giants. Ideological dwarfism in contemporary hedonistic and increasingly splintered Goa would not be able to recreate the magic of those days in Paris which led to Asian decolonisation revolution in 20th century. Under the prism of microhistory we can see how much Paris and France, the French society and intellectuals have done for Asia, India, and Goa. Human civilization still exists because of such nourishing watering holes in deserts of despair.

France still remains for the despairing world an oasis of free thought, a sanctuary for non conformists, outsiders and rebels and quite logically biggest challenge for misguided religious fundamentalists and terrorists. Secularism born out of reaction to Church interfering in politics is biggest gift of France to the world. France is paying a heavy price for it. More than a thousand Goans are employed in Paris.

On the eve of our 67th Republic Day, it is appropriate to recall Goa’s Francophilia and historic connections with France. Memories of France and Paris are associated with lives and work of stalwarts like Abbe de Faria, Francisco Luis Gomes, T B Cunha, Laxman Pai, Manoharrai Sardessai among others.

Goa warmheartedly welcomes French President Francois Hollande who would be the chief guest of the Republic Day parade. Ethnically the liberal French and Goans share many common values. French have the iconic, branded wines. Goans have the Cashew and Coconut Feni and culture of making fruit wines. The French ‘spirit’ behind their original discovery and especially refinement is obvious.

Priests from wine producing Mediterranean countries sent to preach gospel in Goa in 16th and 17th centuries were not idling their time. They were scouting for local knowledge and exhorting the new parishioners to learn European techniques in baking, brewing, distillation, grafting, food processing. French Indologists too took special interest in Goa.

Goa should be grateful to Etienne de La Croix, known as Father Stevens of the Cross (1579-1643) as one of the greatest Jesuit benefactor of Goa. Goa’s beloved Jesuit scholar priest, late Antonio Pereira described him as “first class Marathi poet, an authority on Saint Peter, a scholar on Hinduism and its rites and well versed in Vedas and Puranas, Saxtti’s saint and scholar”. He stands out as a solid bridge between Christianity and Hinduism, France and India, European and Indian languages.

French cuisine is special. Authentic Goan haute cuisine, the way it is cooked and served matches the culture of French cuisine. Goan and French gourmets could compete in their love for good food and drinks. French love poetry, mathematics and philosophy, so do the Goans. French Mille-Feuille influenced Indo-Portuguese Bolo mil folhas. Goan cuisine accommodates French Liver Pate, Foie Gras and Crème Chantilly. French worship arts, music, dance, drama, paintings- diverse tastes which match what Goans crave for.

Candolim-born Abbe de Faria participated in French revolution and also worked as Professor of Philosophy in University of France. Alexander Duma fictionalised him in his novel Count of Monte Cristo. Faria became famous and controversial after publication of his work Da Causa does Sono Lúcido no Estudo da Natureza do Homem (On the cause of Lucid Sleep in the Study of the Nature of Man) in 1819. It is a tragedy that somewhere in Montmartre, Paris lays his unmarked grave. From Navelim, Francisco Luis Gomes went to Europe and dazzled the Parisians and Europeans in 1861, by publishing a 34-page essay in French “De la question du cotton en Angleterre et dans les possessions portugaises d’ Afrique Occidentale” (The issue of cotton in England and the Portuguese possessions of West Africa). The Society of economists of Paris honored him by making him an associate member.

Within just 50 years, another Goan political economist T B Cunha made an impact in Paris by being part of Romain Rolland’s circle which he utilised to create awareness on Goa’s colonial problems. Artist Laxman Pai and Poet Manohar Sardessai followed a different direction in Paris in search of ideas while feeling homesick and concerned about their motherland. Pai originally from Margao, had shifted to Paris at the age of 25 and studied at École des Beaux-Arts. Every year he would hold a solo exhibition. Poet Sardessai had a progressive, liberal, rebellious spirit. He got powerful impulse to pen poems on Goan condition. French revolutionary inspiration fused with his longing for Goa. The lyrical, melodious, hymn like poetry born out of this process is compiled in Ayj re dholar podli bodi (1961), Goema tujya mogakhatir (1964) and Jayat jage (1964). Sardessai’s poetry shows dramatic influence of socialism and French aesthetic and romantic schools. Goa and France have so much at stake to build a new peaceful society. Therefore presence of the French President is moment to raise a toast to everlasting Indo French Friendship.